There is a widespread belief that teaching English abroad demands a significant financial investment before you even start earning. While you will need to handle the costs of your TESOL certification and relocation to your selected destination, you should be able to recoup these expenses swiftly. However, in some areas, the high cost of living can leave you feeling as if you are perpetually leaking money. So, where can you live comfortably while teaching English on a modest budget? Let's explore some of the most affordable destinations for teaching English abroad.
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Thailand often pops up on many "best places to teach English abroad" lists for a variety of reasons, one being its notably low cost of living. While the average salary for English teachers isn't especially high, routine expenses are quite affordable, particularly outside the popular tourist regions. Decent accommodation can be found for as little as $6 a night in a hostel dormitory, while a private room may be as low as $15. If you are looking for luxury amenities like a shared pool, options start around $30. Moreover, internal travel is incredibly cheap, as the country is riddled with long-distance buses and shared minivans. However, don't overlook domestic flights which can be surprisingly affordable and time-saving.
Another major expense in some countries can be food, but Thailand is famed for its inexpensive yet exquisite cuisine. Street food, available at every corner, can often cost no more than a dollar per plate. Most locals frequently opt for street food, and there is no reason you should do otherwise! Local restaurants offer great value for money, and groceries from markets and small family shops are relatively cheap. The key is to avoid imported goods and tourist-targeted areas, where prices are considerably higher. Do note that alcohol tends to be pricier than food in Thailand, so perhaps keep those wild nights to a minimum.
Southeast Asia is the ideal region for affordable living, with plentiful job opportunities and living costs usually well below what you would be accustomed to back home. Besides Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are well worth considering.
Also read: Where should I teach English in Thailand?
Mexico, like Thailand, is a popular tourist and TESOL destination offering relatively affordable living, working, and travel conditions. Hostel dormitory beds start at around $10 a night, while a private double room can be obtained for approximately $30. Airbnb has become an increasingly attractive option, with apartments starting as low as $20 a night, complete with fast internet and home-like comforts. Other alternatives like housesitting and couchsurfing, which can provide free housing, are growing in popularity in Mexico. Travel within the country is also quite affordable, with local buses generally offering comfort at a low cost. Mini shared vans are excellent for short distances, while luxury coaches cater to longer distances with amenities like reclining seats, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi.
Famous globally for its exceptional cuisine, Mexico's food scene is incredibly affordable. A dollar or two will get you an explosion of flavors from street food. For those preferring the comfort of indoor dining or looking to enjoy a leisurely meal with friends, local restaurants offer a spectacular range of dishes. Away from tourist hotspots, you can enjoy a meal for $5 to $10 per person. Visiting Mexico's ancient ruins, stunning national parks, and informative museums is also pocket-friendly. Overall, Mexico offers a broad array of experiences that can be enjoyed without burning a hole in your pocket.
The majority of countries in this region won't strain your wallet, and the demand for TESOL qualified teachers is high. In Central America, countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras are increasingly popular and inexpensive. In South America, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Paraguay are certainly worth exploring.
Finding a low-cost destination in Europe while teaching English can be challenging. Popular choices like France, Italy, and Spain can be quite expensive, particularly in major cities like Paris, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, and Madrid. However, the Czech Republic offers a more affordable alternative, with a wide availability of jobs. Many teachers initially opt for cheap hostel accommodation before moving to a shared apartment or renting their own, with monthly costs around $800.
Prague, the capital, is the most popular teaching location and, though likely the most expensive, it offers reasonable living costs for a European capital with so much to offer. Famous for their beer, the Czechs offer excellent local brews for as little as $1.60 a pint. Local food is also reasonably priced, and commuting is easy with a monthly Prague travel pass costing just $22.
Affordable European destinations tend to be in Central Europe, such as Hungary, Poland, and Romania. However, Portugal in the far west of the region is also worth investigating.